STONINGTON — Better communication with school personnel about the upcoming middle school consolidation was the top request from about 35 parents who attended an information session Tuesday at Stonington High School.
Facilitated by Tim Smith, principal of Mystic Middle School and Pawcatuck Middle School, the session briefly covered updates about class sizes and curriculum. Thomas Paige, the police youth officer, also presented information about the dangers of social media and vaping.
Parents were able to express their concerns about the consolidation during a “restorative practice” led by Kris Wraight, associate director of prevention and restorative practices at Safe Futures of New London, and Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer, an educator at Safe Futures. Safe Futures is part of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Network to End Domestic Violence. In the past, the school district has hired Wraight and Sheehan-Gaumer to facilitate classroom workshops.
Sitting in a large circle, parents responded one-by-one to the prompt, “What is one fear or worry you have of the school consolidation?”
A number of parents said they were concerned about the consolidation’s potential “first year mistakes.”
“Because it is going to be such a big change, we don’t want to have a lost year in terms of academic progress and moving forward,” said another parent.
Another parent asked for excellent advance planning and communication so that there would be no surprises for children, parents and teachers.
“Middle school is the most emotional period of our kids’ lives and we need to make sure everything is prepared and we all have the same game plan,” she said.
Another parent said he didn’t want children to pay the price as “guinea pigs” during the first year of the consolidation.
A number of parents expressed concerns about long bus rides to and from school.
“My child is going from a three-minute walk to a 45-minute to an hour bus ride,” said one parent. Other parents said picking up their children after sports will be more difficult in the new location.
Other concerns included the age appropriateness of combining sixth-grade activities with those of seventh and eighth graders.
Parents also worried that the administration wouldn’t provide enough opportunities for all middle school students to socialize and to start thinking of themselves as Stonington Middle School students in a building that had been Mystic Middle School.
“The more kids get together now, the better it will be in the building because sometimes I hear the Pawcatuck kids saying, ‘We’re going to their school,’” said a parent. “I think the more we can do to make it our school when they walk in the first day, I think it will be beneficial for every child.”
Some parents said they and their children were excited about the consolidation.
Another parent said it was important to take a collaborative approach because “it’s that energy that’s going to make it successful, and our children will reflect that energy.”
Better communication delivered consistently from one type of portal was a request that had many parents nodding in agreement.
“There are so many forms of communication when it comes to different teachers — one uses Powerschool, another Google Classroom, another uses email — you need to consolidate the processes,” said one parent. “Find a way that’s better and more streamlined because now you’re using Mystic Middle School communication and Pawcatuck’s. I’m hoping before the consolidation it becomes a more well-oiled machine.”
“We need that now," said another parent. "We need transparency set up before September, before August, I would even say before June.”
“The communication strategy that you’re using is not working,” said another parent.
“We hear that loud and clear,” said Smith, addressing the parents. He added that he brought in Wraight and Sheehan-Gaumer because he had heard some fears and concerns from the community about the consolidation and he wanted to know more.
“We heard the fear, the worry, the need for more communication. This is one of our first steps to addressing all of that and we didn’t want to wait until a better time after the holidays,” he said after the session. He said the school would have more meetings with parents "because that’s what people need."